Who’s In It: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Tom McCarthy, David Andrews, Liraz Charhi, Adam LeFevre, Sam Shepard, Khaled Nabawy, Ty Burrell
The Basics: Covert CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) juggles her secret work abroad with a domestic life at home with her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), and their two young children. But when Wilson publicly repudiates the White House’s claim of ties between Niger and Iraq that suggest weapons of mass destruction are being produced, Plame is outed as a covert operative, putting her career and her marriage into jeopardy.
What’s The Deal: Fair Game is a film designed to make Americans steaming mad, the telling of a true-life story that retroactively calls shenanigans on President George W. Bush’s administration. And whether or not you followed the whole shameful affair back in 2003, when Plame’s identity was leaked to the press by government officials with an agenda for war, the details retold are just as infuriating. What screenwriters Jez and John Butterworth add to the publicly known facts are the personal accounts of the Wilsons’ lives, turned upside down by the political machinations of villainous versions of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and recounted by Plame in her own 2007 memoirs (the basis for this script). Rousing and deftly paced as Doug Liman presents the story alternately as spy thriller, political potboiler, and domestic drama, Fair Game succumbs to an almost obligatory forced emotional denouement that suggests Plame’s decision to fight back owed more to the preservation of marriage than to moral outrage. Still, it’s compelling stuff that reminds us that truth is often stranger than fiction – and always worth fighting for.
The Clear Choice For Our Next Lady 007: Naomi Watts, a marvel of grit and grace under pressure who carries the film with a steely reserve that makes Plame feel like a modern folk hero of sorts. She doesn’t get into any James Bond-style action – Plame is depicted as a strictly non-violent kind of agent, though she comes home bruised from time to time – but Watts is everything else we want in a lady spy. Cool under pressure, courageous in enemy territory, a mysterious femme fatale cutting deals with cell groups in exotic locales, and infinitely more believable as an undercover agent than Angelina Jolie in Salt.
Who Makes The Biggest Impact With A Cameo, Kinda: George W. Bush, who shows up periodically in archival footage to deliver the WMD-related rhetoric and justifications for war that we now know to have been false or selectively exaggerated. If you couldn’t tell before, this is a film that wears its politics on its sleeve, so act accordingly.
When Fair Game Should Have Really Been Released: A week earlier, before Election Day. Opening in limited release days afterward (followed by a subsequent national rollout) still feels like clever timing, but the film’s potential to spur actionable political thought feels like a missed opportunity.